All Strings Attached

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Chapter 4: Only Half Alive

“You’re in a hurry. Was he yelling again?”

A voice from beside Arika caused her to shriek. Looking into the hedges a young woman with springy-burgundy hair and eyes of sapphire. Her olive skin was dusted with white flour as usual.

Arika released a sigh before approaching her. “You should get down from there, Suni. One of these days they’ll see you as an intruder.” She took a deep breath before looking at her. “He… was a bit upset about a proposal I made. But we should discuss this over some treats. You brought them, right?”

Suni lifted a basket with a grin. “Mama said I could take a break since the goodies are baking.” She jumped down from the hedge and stumbled. Arika grabbed her wrist and giggled.

“Still a clumsy doofus!” She held Suni’s hand and walked with her. “Oh, and when I tell you what I did, please don’t get mad!~” Arika pleased with a grin plastered on her face.

Suni rolled her eyes. “Whenever you say not to get mad, it means you screwed up. But I’ll try.”

Arika opened the gate that led to the garden. Hedges with gardenia flowers of all colors lined the stoned pavement and surrounded the gazebo. She released her hand and sat down. Suni placed the basket on the table between them before sitting down. Both reached into the basket and pulled out small rolls that were freshly baked.

While Arika lacked the sense of taste and smell, eating Suni’s baking always made her feel warm inside.

Suni finished her roll before leaning in. “No more stalling, spill what you did this time to get him that mad.”

The princess fiddled with the half-eaten roll.“Okay so… I convinced King Lambert that I should marry prince Sin-Vira of the Snapdragon kingdom after meeting up with the prince because he attempted kidnapping me but botched it. Are you mad?”

Her friend stared at her with a dumbfounded expression. “Arika. I normally backed up your bad ideas because that’s what friends are for. But you’re aware this is the dumbest thing you’ve done. He tried to kidnap-” Arika placed a hand over her lips and hushed her. “…He tried to kidnap you. The enemy of our kingdom tried to kidnap you, and your response was marriage? I knew you were strange, but you’re also pretty dull!” Suni looked amuse as she rested her arms on the table and laid her head on them.

Arika finished eating her piece and nodded. “After restraining him, he told me the reason behind his actions. Remember the mines?” Suni adverted her eyes as her amusement ceased. “My sis wouldn’t stand for it. When she gets better, she’ll tell you I did the right thing…”

“Have you checked on her recently? You don’t bring her up as much anymore…” Suni ran her index finger long the spiral grooves on the table.

“I’m not allowed to check on her, but the head maid told me she’s fine. She’s less feverish and just sleeping a lot. Though she was nasty about it. Talkin’ like I was the one bothering her!” Arika defensively crossed her arms.

Suni smiled a bit. “Maybe she’s still upset about the time you put a snail on her doorknob. She screamed so loud we could barely hear the morning bell!”

Arika smiled fondly. “She had it coming! That old bat dared to double my studies on my day off. But it was kinda mean… she was stuck in there for half a day. Though that was years ago, she should’ve gotten over it…”

“Okay, she’s an old prune, nothing new. Tell me about this prince! Is he at least cute?” Suni sat properly.

The princess sat in silence as she thought about his appearance. “He wasn’t unattractive based on my sis’s standards. But when I last saw him, I thought he was only half alive!” She jest.

“Then he’d be like you!” Suni exclaimed.

“…”

“Sorry. That was tasteless. You okay?” She asked.

Arika reached over and rubbed the flour off with her thumb before placing her hands on her lap. “I wasn’t offended. You never try to hurt my feelings, Suni. I was just thinking how sad it would be if he were in my situation. The plan of marriage might not be private, but our intentions are. So if anyone asks, it’s to unify our kingdoms to cease tension. Alright?” She tilted her head to the side.

Suni slowly nodded. “The Snapdragons are seen as a threat to us all. I’m worried he has another plan for you. I doubt they’d agree so easily. Be careful, okay?” she asked.

“I promise. There’s no way I would agree without making sure I can defend myself. I even spar with the knights if it helps!” Arika suggested.

“Do whatever. I’m just a commoner, after all, bossing around a royal member of Gardenia isn’t a bright idea,” she said in a matter-of-fact tone before standing up. “Mama’s probably wanting me back. I’ll catch you around, Arika! Keep the rolls!” She gently pats Arika’s head before waving. “See ya!”

Arika waved back before looking at the basket. She ate the rolls mindlessly, letting the day pass by with her as she evaluated her decisions that would impact her sister’s future.

So long as her sister was stuck in bed, Arika would be forced to continue her façade and perform the role she was forced to play.

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